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Michael Fry's stage version of Emma was first produced in London by the Cloucester Stage Company back in 1991. As far as I know, that original production continued into 1992. The play resurfaced in 1996 at the King's Head Pub and Theatre in 1996 and again in 1998 at the University of Maryland. Special thanks to Daniela G. and Kathleen Elder for providing their reviews and information about the performances they viewed.

Emma by Michael Fry

From the Gloucester Stage Company (1992):


The ... brilliant new stage adaptation that prompted London's Time Out critic to write "Michael Fry has dramatised a classic novel to show how the gloriously eclectic medium of theatre can lend its own particular charm and insight into the work of a famous writer... Jane Austen herself would surely applaud!" And so will you. This time-honored romance was a triumph, last year, in its London stage premiere. ... Witty and wise.

From The 1996 King's Head Pub & Theatre Program, with bracketed notes by Daniela Guelicher:

Jane Austen's Emma
adapted by Michael Fry

9th July to 11th August [1996] King's Head Theatre [Islington London N1]

Emma is one of the best-known and favourite of all English novels and her story has delighted many generations of readers. This new adaptation brings to life all of the wonderfully eccentric characters from Jane Austen's little England. Private theatricals were a popular pastime in the Austen family home, and Michael Fry has inventively placed his adaptation of Emma within such a setting. Sharp-tongued, beautifully observed and with a lightness of touch, this is a "play within a play" which delightfully and ingeniously retains the words and wit of the novel.


Jonathan Chesterman [ Mr Elton, Frank Chruchill, Robert Martin, John Knightley]

Anthony Edridge [Mr Knightley, Mr Weston, Mrs Bates]

Katherine Fry [Harriet, Mrs Elton, Miss Bates, Isabella]

Sally Mortemore [Jane Fairfax, Mrs Weston, Mr Woodhouse]

Clara Salaman [Emma]

Directed by Michael Fry
Designed by Alban Oliver
Music by Matthew Scott
Choreographed by Sheila Irwin

This adaptation was originally seen in 1991:

"Hearts are lost and hands are won in an evening of gentle charm is a rare delight to be reacquainted with what is arguably the finest comic novel in the language." Evening Standard

"Shared Experience did it; the Royal Shakespeare Company did it; now Michael Fry has dramatised a classic novel to show how the gloriously eclectic medium of theatre can lend its own particular charm and insight into the work of a famous writer. Jane Austen herself would surely applaud." Time Out

Daniela Guelicher's Review of the 1996 King's Head Pub Production:

A very entertaining performance in a cute little theatre in the backroom of an English pub. The audience were seated around tables or on benches and could enjoy a drink (or even a quiet meal) during performance. The surroundings exactly fitted the style of the play. Two actors and three actresses gave a lively, funny performance warmly applauded by the audience. The play Emma is set within a framework play:

Five young people from Jane Austen's time are looking for something to do and decide to perform a theatrical in the living-room (remember Mansfield Park?). The self-confident daughter of the house decides it has to be Emma and takes the lead role for herself. All but the lead character played several parts with very little change of costume. A shawl, a scarf, a different jacket or a pair of glasses was all that was needed to change into a different part. Each character had its own particular "distinctive mark": a shawl for Jane Fairfax, a blue jacket for Mr Weston, a blanket for Mr Woodhouse, a blonde wig for Harriet, an awful hat for Mrs Elton etc. This way the actors could change characters even within scenes and the audience could identify them without problems. I thought the best transformation was Mr Knightley's into Mrs Bates (glasses + shawl and a bit of mumbling). The actors were great. Emma and Mr Knightley were in the Paltrow-Northam style. Katherine Fry was wonderful as naive little Harriet, especially when she falls in love with Mr Knightley. The performance had some very funny scenes.

A good adaptation of the novel with particular stress on its lively tone and comic elements.

From the University of Maryland's web site (1998):

University Theatre at the University of Maryland presents Emma, a play by Michael Fry based on the novel by Jane Austen. Performances are in Pugliese Theatre in the Tawes Fine Arts Building Feb. 11-14 and 17-21 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 15 and 22 at 2 p.m.

"My overall image of this play is a dance. People in the play form pairs, move together, separate, and move on," said director Nick Olcott. "People can look forward to a deliciously light evening with the wonderful quality of a dance - and a lot of laughs."

Olcott described Emma as a faithful adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, which focuses on the economic and social place of marriage.

"She [Austen] had such an infallible eye for seeing the way society works," said Olcott. "Even today . . . it's easy to see all the people we know 'mating and unmating' as large pieces of property flow between them."

Olcott recently directed Round House Theatre's critically acclaimed production of Uncle Vanya. Scene design for Emma is by Raye Leith, a Master of Fine Arts student in design who recently designed scenery for Look! We Have Come Through! at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. Costumes are designed by Alisa Mandel, a first year Master of Fine Arts student in costume design. Daniel MacLean Wagner, a five-time recipient of the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lighting Design, is lighting designer for the production.

Kathleen Elder's Review of the 1998 University of Maryland Production:

The play (at U of MD) was great fun. It was very fast-paced, with a narrator and 2-man chorus to fill in the blanks. (The "chorus" also rearranged the minimal set between scenes.)

The nine Pemberleyans enjoyed themselves -- we were the first to understand one of the "in" jokes: Mr. Elton has been asked to read while Harriet is posing for her portrait, and he pulls out a book and begins "It is a truth universally acknowledged . . . ." He then mentions that it's a new novel by Jane Austen.

Harriet seemed well-cast - very sweet and naive. Mrs. Elton was a bit too loud and too obviously crude. Mr. Woodhouse was funny as he often merely passed through the scene fretting and worrying. Mr. Knightley seemed good (a bit young, perhaps ;o) ) and so did Emma. (Some of us saw a resemblance between the lead actress and Elizabeth Garvie of P&P1.)

The play used some of the bits from Emma2 and Emma3 - Frank was the one who suggested that Mr Dixon had sent the piano, and there was an emphasis on the chicken thieves. The chorus also sneaked behind Emma at one point to shout "Clueless!"

All in all, it was very enjoyable. If it comes your way, I recommend seeing it.